How I Learned to Code
I am going to share the journey of how I learned to code in a series and continue to share the journey once I get a job. One thing that is unique about my coding journey is that I am largely self-taught and only later applied to a coding boot camp after a poorly timed pandemic hampered my job hunt. I was introduced to coding through my employer and what was once a whim quickly became a growing passion that would guide many of my future decisions. You should continue reading only if you want to hear about the process and enjoy a story about failures, challenges, and a few successes. Nothing terribly unique, but it’s my take on something akin to an origin story if there could be such a thing for a software engineer.
My co-worker John was going to apply to a pilot program that our employer offered that would pay for our way through a coding boot camp. I was finishing up Calculus at the time and only had a few weeks to burn through some code academy lessons, make a creative video, solve a Project Euler problem, and create a beginner web app while I was working full-time. I had no coding experience whatsoever prior to this but I managed to create a mini-portfolio that was good enough to get me to the screening of the final 20 of what was 100 plus candidates. I am a person that is often over-prepared but even I couldn’t juggle quite this much in such a short amount of time. The other candidates would have been preparing for months so I am proud of the fact that I still made it as far as I did. I went to my technical interview and bombed hard. I could not, for the life of me, remember anything. Not even a for-loop. This was the first of many failures in my coding journey.
Rejection and failure are things we should all get used to. I, for one, don’t like rejection at all and try to avoid anything that opens me up to the possibility of such an undesirable feeling. I do, however, get motivated by failure. This was something I knew I could do and I didn’t do it. Challenge accepted.
I devoured lesson after lesson online and carved out a path to learn the arcane art of software engineering. I quickly found that I loved coding problems and spent a lot of time on Codewars. When you know nothing about a thing the way I knew nothing about coding, it’s hard to find a discernable path sometimes. For instance, I started learning Jquery in 2019 which I thankfully didn’t waste much time on. I watched tutorials on how to make tic-tac-toe and a random color game. I had no idea what a framework was. API? No clue. Looking back, I realize that my learning could have been much easier. I hate when people say ‘get good at googling’ but leave out the part where you need to know what the heck you’re googling. You need to know somewhat what you’re looking for. Many of the free resources available are amazing, true, but lack a sense of cohesion or direction so that is largely left to the young coder to discover this for themselves. My point is that I learned, it was chaotic and unorganized, yet I learned.
I needed guidance and I got it. It turns out that the coding community is very helpful and one quick Facebook post was enough to put me in contact with a high school friend who has been an engineer for 10 years. In about 2 paragraphs he set me up with enough guidance to where I wouldn’t need anymore for quite some time. He told me that I should learn a framework and listed off Angular, React, and Vue. I randomly chose Angular and got a course from Udemy. Maximillian Scwarzmuller is amazing and I recommend all of his courses. I burned through the lessons and took on the challenge of making my own Angular application. This is the first success story of note in my journey. Milestone? Chapter? It was dope and I made a thing and launched it on the internet! Here is the link to that project. This project was made before I came in contact with the wider coding world.
Soon after this I put together a portfolio and began applying for jobs. In all of my research on how to get your first job, there was one unanimous verdict: it’s really hard when you are self-taught. I got a few bites early on that gave me hope and made me think that finding a job wouldn’t be too difficult; however, that feeling didn’t last long. There was a pandemic that arrived and the world still wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Business and news websites were posting articles about how effective and viable mass work at home would be and news flash, it’s great, but that was certainly not the feeling in the air for many companies. Fun fact, managers like to manage and companies like to have control over everything when it comes to their business. That said, I got more than one response like this: ‘well we were looking for a junior developer but now since we are all work at home we want someone with 3 years experience’. This was far from a good feeling but I would not be so easily discouraged.
After a lot of thinking I began to consider going to a coding boot camp because my current employer wouldn’t even talk to me about a developer role without a 4-year stem degree or coding boot camp under my belt. This was a hard pill to swallow. I had talked to a lot of people at this point and experienced engineers assured me that I was ready to be employed and that they would gladly hire me if they had an opening. I had positive feedback on my projects and I knew firsthand where coding boot camp graduates were compared to me as far as technical ability. Coding boot camps were still a bit mysterious. They don’t divulge their entire curriculum and, as I stated earlier, finding what you need to learn isn’t exactly black and white when you’re just plain inexperienced. So I decided that even if it wasn’t all new information, taking the time to go to a boot camp would be worth it since I could sharpen my skills, grow my network, and gain some credibility all at the same time. So that’s what I did. I went to a coding boot camp.
I will continue this tale in my next blog but for now, I encourage readers to forge their own path and to never give up. Journey before destination! (bonus points if you know the reference)